What's Next for the Chicago Blackhawks?
The Chicago Blackhawks are currently sitting at dead last in the Central Division, with a 22-19-6 record. Their most painful outing as of late was a 7-3 thumping against the New York Islanders, where the rookie defenceman Ryan Pulock recorded five points against the club.
The question is: What do the Hawks do for the rest of the season? Before we get to that, let’s backtrack a bit.
The Hawks have been one of the most fierce teams over the last several years, capturing three Stanley Cups since 2010, and being a constant fixture in the postseason (Not to mention the dreadfully oversaturated outdoor games). Recently, they have become victims of their own success, leaving father time to catch up to them. General Manager Stan Bowman has handed out some less-than-ideal contracts that are eating away at cap space, Brent Seabrook being the most obvious one. He is owed 6.875 million for the next six season and was healthy scratch against the Ottawa Senators just two weeks ago. The Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane contracts while earned, don’t help either. Kane is still a point-per-game player and Mr. Reliable, while Toews' production dropped on the score sheet for two years without Brandon Saad on his wing.
Now that Saad has returned to Toews' left, and recently acquired Anthony Duclair on the right, he could turn it around and notch some points. He sits third on the team with 31 after a brief hot stretch. That however is over as he’s pointless in his last five contests. The Hawks also just got their number two centre back from injury in Artem Anisimov. Originally day-to-day, he quickly became week-to-week and returned for the teams first game post bye-week after sitting out since December 29th. Their biggest crutch is that they're without their star goaltender who prior to injury was having one of his best years, rocking a 16-9-2, 2.27 GAA, .929 SV% stat-line with a pair of shutouts to his name. Due to the loss, the Hawks are now riding the world’s most ‘okay-est’ goalie Anton Forsberg, and 32-year-old rookie but heart warmer Jeff Glass. Neither are going to steal wins, but it isn’t the best idea to go out and spend assets on somebody like Robin Lehner. They aren’t cup contenders as of right now, they won’t be with any trade at the deadline, and they won’t be next year. Their window is all but closed, and they’re looking at a mid-round pick in the first round of the draft in June, without a 2nd, 4th, or a 5th round selection either.
My suggestion: Punt the season. Take a knee, run out the clock.
Their prospect pool has dwindled because more often than not they have been traded at the deadline for rental help, which you have to do with a talented core, such as their's at their peak. Though instead of an Olympic size pool of prospects, they’re looking at a kiddie pool or a splash pad. On the bright side, they have a handful of good young players that are wearing the Blackhawks sweater right now, in Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz, and Vinnie Hinostroza. The Blackhawks' second round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, DeBrincat, earned his spot out of training camp and has stuck, posting 14 goals and 28 points in 42 games so far. Schmaltz is second in points on the team with 12 goals and 33 points, trailing only Kane’s 48. The 20th overall pick in 2014, Schmaltz is showing off why the Hawks think so highly of the North Dakota alum. Lastly, Hinostroza, a common call up and send down natural centre who’s played at LW in the show. He’s posted 9 points in 16 games with the big club this year, and considering he had 23 points in his first 72 career games, that’s a significant jump. He’s also got 22 points in 23 games with the Rockford IceHogs this season in the AHL. Speaking of Rockford, Matt Highmore is a winger to keep your eye on. He leads the Hogs in points with 18 goals and 10 assists in his first season of pro hockey. He’s coming from the Saint John Sea Dogs where he led the defending QMJHL champions with 89 points. Bowman would be mad to trade away those four blue chip prospects this season or next in an ill-fated attempt to make a playoff run, let alone one for the Cup.
So punt the season, Chicago. Play it out. If you make the playoffs, great, it’s good for the younger players to get the experience. If you don’t, hit the golf links and prepare for some changes.